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Walking the Brooklyn Bridge with David McCullough

Monday, May 21, 2012

Historian David McCullough is known for his biographies of monumental American figures: John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman. But McCullough second book, published in 1972, explored American history not through the eyes of a Founding Father or a President, but through one of the most important public works projects of all time: the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Transportation Nation

Historian David McCullough on What the Brooklyn Bridge Says About Politics Today

Monday, May 21, 2012

Photo: Anna Sale/WNYC

(New York, NY -- Anna Sale, It's a Free Country.Org) “Don’t you think this is a wonderful thing to walk across this bridge!”

Historian David McCullough has had a lot of honors in his career – two Pulitzers, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and just this week a gold medal for biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters – but he still gets that thrill crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.

(To hear David McCullough speak on the bridge, click here.)

On a bustling, bright morning this week, the 78 year-old and I started walking over from Manhattan. He is re-releasing a 40th anniversary edition of his 600-page history, The Great Bridge: the Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Every few minutes, he pauses to command “Look at this!” with a sweeping gesture of his hand.

“I can never get over it,” he said. “How did they do it? I still ask myself, how did they do it?”

Work began on the bridge in 1869, four years after the end of the Civil War, “in a day when every piece of steel, every stone had to be brought to the site by horse and wagon,” McCullough notes. When the bridge opened years later, in 1883. The towers were then the highest structures in New York City. It was the world’s longest suspension bridge, and the first time steel cables were used.

Also new were the underwater caissons – wooden boxes filled with air – that allowed workers to anchor the stone towers deep into the uneven riverbed.

“All new technology, innovating, improvising as they went along.” The sense of awe hasn’t faded. “Who are those guys, in other words, they’re really good!”

McCullough’s book, tells the history of these really good guys. There were the legions of workers from all over the world who built it.

Designer John Roebling, “the suspension bridge genius,” had proven a bridge could hang on steel cables by building a smaller version in Cincinnati. “He wanted this to be two great gateways to two great cities,” McCullough exclaimed at the foot of the first tower.

Roebling died unexpectedly before construction started, leaving his son, Washington Roebling, to take over. But he had a debilitating injury, so his wife Emily supervised day-to-day operations.

The federal government didn’t decide to build the bridge. New York City and Brooklyn did. Manhattan was bursting, and needed to grow across the river. Lining up in support were businesspeople, the press, and politicians — including Boss Tweed, the political boss who was at all the height of his power.

“I’m sure there were doubters, I’m sure there were cheapskates – but no, it was a chance to do it, and the benefits, the profit was so enormous. And it would’ve been sheer ignorance not to have done it.”

When McCullough’s book came out in 1972, just as Nixon’s New Federalism was scaling back the ambitious federal infrastructure programs of the Johnson era.

Forty years ago, McCullough said he viewed the book as history, without any particular  resonance to the politics of the day. Now, it’s different.

“The gilded age is about as rotten and greedy and corrupt as conscience-less as one can imagine – does that sound familiar?"

McCullough admits that today, he’d like to go to Washington and “knock their heads together” and tell them to stop being “selfish and stupid.”

Putting off regular infrastructure maintenance particularly sticks in his craw. The massive Transportation Bill which pays for bridges, road and transit, expired three years ago. The Senate and House haven't been able to agree, and instead, have passed short-term extensions nine times.

“It’s a form of indebtedness and we have to stop it because it’s dangerous as can be, he said, adding with an incredulous laugh. “And it’s how we get around. It’s how we function. It’s not theoretical!”

But McCullough stressed, neither novel nor really what endures. Studying history, he said, creates an cynic in the short-term and an optimist in the long-term.

"Even in the most dark or rotten of eras, great things can be done by exceptional people of integrity. That's really the story of this bridge." McCullough said as we reached the the other side in Brooklyn. "What we build, will very often stand down the ages as testimony to who we were, far more clearly and far more powerfully, than the politicians that come and go.”

 

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It's A Free Country ®

David McCullough on the Brooklyn Bridge's Enduring Message

Saturday, May 19, 2012

“Don’t you think this is a wonderful thing to walk across this bridge!”  

Historian David McCullough has had a lot of honors in his career – two Pulitzers, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and just this week a gold medal for biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters – but he still gets that thrill crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Transportation Nation

DC's Transportation Network -- How Does it Compare to the rest of the World?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Montgomery County officials are considering building a bike center that can accommodate a large number of cycling commuters. (Photo by Marin Di Caro)

(Washington, DC -- WAMU) Compared to major U.S. metropolitan areas, Washington D.C. is one of the best when it comes to the choices available to commuters who want to avoid the congestion of the Beltway. We have the Metro, buses, and a new, popular bike share program. Compared to other cities across the globe, however, Washington is somewhat lacking in transportation innovation, but advocates and government officials say that is slowly changing.

Benefits of bus rapid transit systems

From the Silver Spring Metro station, Michael Replogle and a WAMU reporter traveled downtown via Georgia Avenue, one of the most congested north/south roadways in the city, one that Replogle would like to see transformed into a more efficient facility.

Replogle is global policy director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy,  an organization that promotes sustainable transportation programs around the world.

"This could be a bus rapid transit corridor," he says. "You might have buses running down the center of the street and basically getting rid of the parked cars on the sides."

George Avenue has three lanes running in each direction. The outside lane both ways is often taken by parked cars. Buses regularly get stuck behind turning vehicles. A bus rapid transit, or BRT, system, would free buses to travel down exclusive bus lanes in the center of the road with the traffic lights programmed to hit green block after block.

"Bus rapid transit in Guangzhou, China is carrying 850,000 passengers a day on a single 20-mile corridor moving 28,000 passengers per hour per direction, which is more than any of the Metro lines here in Washington, D.C.," says Replogle. "They were able to build that system at a cost of less than $10 million a mile, which compares to several hundred million dollars a mile for building Metro."

BRT is being considered in Montgomery County, where County Councilman Marc Elrich has given several presentations on its benefits.

"Ideally, we would like to add more rail lines but at $300 to $400 million per mile for heavy rail like Metro and $50 to $100 million per mile of light rail, we cannot afford to build much of a next generation public transportation system," says Councilman Elrich in a statement posted to his website. "At $10 to $25 million per mile, bus rapid transit (BRT) is less expensive and allows for more interconnecting routes."

Bus rapid transit systems exist in some American cities, including Eugene, Ore. and Cleveland, Ohio. "People could have a one-seat ride from the mid- or upper Montgomery County all the way into the city," says Replogle. "There is now a growing realization that we can't afford to build Metro to everywhere in the region. We're struggling to come up with money to finance things like the Purple Line."

The benefits of BRT would extend beyond faster commutes. The improvements brought with better transportation systems extend to the design of neighborhoods (more mixed-used development closer to transportation hubs; fewer large car parking lots) to the local economy.

"For every dollar Americans spend to buy gasoline to drive their car to work something like 85 cents of that dollar leaves the local and regional economy and goes to other countries," he says. "For that same dollar to be spent on bus fare, 80 percent of that goes into paying the wages for the driver."

Metro has opened a new bicycle parking area at the College Park station with plans to open two more bike-and-ride facilities next summer. Construction is expected to be completed later this year at a new transit center in Silver Spring where there will be three bus services, shuttles, Kiss and Ride access, and a new transit store where commuters can buy fare cards and maps.

Replogle says Silver Spring's new transit center will be lacking in one area: it won't have a bike center.

"Unfortunately that is a plan that has long been thwarted," says Replogle.

Montgomery County officials say they are considering building a bike center that can accommodate a large number of cycling commuters at a nearby park, but that plan is in the early stages.

"I think this is something that may yet turn around. There are certainly some in the agencies who are fighting to get the project back on track," says Replogle, who says other cities have extensive bicycling facilities and road infrastructure to make bicycling safe.

"In a number of places in Europe like Münster and Bonn, in Amsterdam, in Switzerland, in Scandinavia, you find bicycle parking halls that store thousands of bicycles at the station entrances," says Replogle. "Hangzhou, China has 50,000 public bikes available throughout the city so that people can take a bicycle from one place and leave it at another place."

Union Station has the only large bicycle parking area in the city--a glass building that can hold about 100 bikes per day with around-the-clock security. Washington's Capital Bikeshare program has about 1,500 bicycles.

"In the Netherlands there are several towns where there are bike stations that hold over 6,000 bicycles," says Replogle.

Bus Rapid Transit in Guangzhou, China

A model of a sustainable transportation system

You don't have to look across the ocean for examples of sustainable transportation systems on a large scale. Look across the Potomac River at Arlington County, considered a regional leader in transit innovation.

"The most important things that Arlington has done right start with land use and the decisions that were made by my predecessors beginning in the '60s and '70s to invest in the Metro system in the way that no one outside of D.C. did," says Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board with 20 years of expertise in sustainable transit.

The county is a partner in the Capital Bikeshare program and has worked to design the areas around the Rosslyn Metro Station, to name one, to be more bike-friendly.

"We were the first to put bike lanes on the street and we have about 30 miles of bike lanes. We also have bike trails that connect to them," said Zimmerman in an interview outside the Rosslyn station. "We created bike parking. A lot of the work this shop does is to make sure people have provisions in their buildings. I can bike to work because there is a place to put my bike in the building."

Arlington provides an array of resources online, from websites to help commuters who choose to walk or bicycle, to its Mobility Lab (mobilitylab.org).  The county also runs several one-stop shops for commuters called Commuter Stores, where people can access transit schedules, bike/walk maps, and car and van pool information, as well as purchase fares.

Zimmerman says the county's efforts to get people moving more efficiently have garnered a lot of attention with the United States, but he looks to other continents, too.

"I went to Copenhagen about 11 years ago on a study tour," he says. "I saw what rush hour looked like in a place in which a third of the people were moving on bicycle in a place that's farther north than we are, tough winters and all that, a third of the people were moving on bicycle. They had become more car-oriented and they had to re-orient themselves to walking and bicycling."

In order to facilitate more walking and biking in Arlington, officials needed data. Commuter-counters were employed at key junctures. The results were eye opening--6,000 people were crossing the Key Bridge daily, to name one major roadway, on foot or on bike.

"No one was counting for years," says Zimmerman. "In many places in this country we are already moving large numbers of people without cars. We ultimately save money, we even build tax base."

In a few weeks Zimmerman will depart for France to visit three cities roughly the size of Arlington to study how they are becoming less car-dependent. The goal, he says, is to create a seamless transportation system in which commuters know they can travel around the region without wasting time. They would be aware of plentiful bus routes, bike lanes, and train schedules.

"In European cities they've been doing this for many more decades," says Zimmerman. "They've built up more of it, and so you can get all over the place in a combination of transit and bicycle; you can pretty much travel anywhere. It is hardly ever an option in the United States."

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Transportation Nation

MTA Fastrack To Expand To Beyond Manhattan

Monday, May 14, 2012

NY MTA workers repairing subway track during a Fastrack service shutdown. (MTA Photos/flickr)

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Fast Track program, which shuts down large portions of subway lines entirely overnight, isn't just for Manhattan any more. Outer borough riders who take the subway late at night will see the pilot program expanded--possibly to their chagrin.

Each Fastrack shutdown lasts Monday to Friday, from 10 at night until 5 in the morning. The program, started in January, allows crews to work for seven straight hours on long stretches of track without stopping to let trains pass by. But that means late night riders have to scramble to find a shuttle bus or trek to another subway to get to where they want to go. The NY MTA website warns they should expect to add about 20 minutes to each trip.

The NY MTA explains the need for the program this way: "Fastrack is a safer and more efficient way to maintain and clean New York City's sprawling subway — a system that never closes...800 MTA employees are able to inspect signals, replace rails and cross ties, scrape track floors, clean stations and paint areas that are not reachable during normal train operation."

Originally, the shutdowns were only supposed to take place in Manhattan, and only this year, for a total of 16 weeks of inconvenience. But already the NY MTA has declared it a success because of how much maintenance is getting done. And now spokesman Kevin Ortiz says Fast Track will continue into next year, when it will expand to lines in the outer boroughs and possibly the N, Q and R trains along Broadway in Manhattan.

Fast Track continues this week with the suspension of the B,D,F and M lines between 57th and West 4th Streets, starting Monday night

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Transportation Nation

Shuster: President Will Sign Transpo Bill In the Fall

Monday, May 14, 2012

Congress member Bill Shuster (House photo)

Congress member Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, & Hazardous Materials, predicts President Barack Obama will sign a transportation bill -- with a provision to build the Keystone Pipeline included -- in September or October.

"Americans support the Keystone Pipeline, 80:20" Shuster told a gathering organized by the New York University Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.  (A march Gallup poll actually put that support at 57:29, still a big majority.)

The pipeline has been vehemently opposed by environmentalists, who say construction of the pipeline would mean "game over" for the environment.  And President Obama has said in the past that he would oppose any transportation bill that included funding for the pipeline.

But Shuster predicted presidential politics would force the President's hand come the fall -- though he acknowledged that for most Americans, transportation wasn't even in their top five issues.

Shuster also pointed the finger at "Leadership and Ways and Means," who he said pushed the idea of removing transit from the transportation bill, an effort that died after "every Republican in an urban or suburban district screamed bloody murder."

Shuster also said he thought Congess would achieve a so-called "grand bargain" avoiding steep across-the-board cuts in spending, either late this year if President Obama is re-elected, or after January if Mitt Romney wins the presidency.

Shuster also took a big swipe at California's high speed rail program, calling it "extortion," and said the only place America should build "high-er speed rail" was in the Northeast Corridor, where, he said, one in five Americans live.

 

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Why So Few Walk or Bike to School

Friday, May 11, 2012

(Washington, DC -- WAMU) What was routine a couple generations ago is now relatively rare.  Nearly 50 percent of Americans kids walked or biked to school in 1969.  Today the figure is 13 percent.

The decline in children’s physical activity is blamed on an array of factors, from the design of road systems to accommodate automobiles instead of pedestrians and bicyclists, to poor parenting.

Whatever the reasons, the results are alarming: approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents are obese.  Supporters of more walking- and bike-friendly neighborhoods partly blame rising the obesity rates on the drop in the number of kids who walk or pedal to school.

In the greater Washington area, determined parents and advocacy groups are trying to get kids moving again.  The solutions, however, are not as easy as simply telling kids to get up and go.  There are concerns about the safety of streets, including missing sidewalks, heavy traffic congestion around schools during morning rush hour and, in some places, crime.

It’s also a matter of convenience and time.  Some kids live too far from their schools to make walking or bicycling practical; some parents find it more convenient to drop their kids off at school while driving to work.

“Kids just aren’t used to it right now.  They are used to getting bused or being in the car.  It’s really about teaching kids.  That’s the education part,” says Christine Green, the regional policy manager at the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, a group that encourages communities to address this issue by making streets safer.

“My job as the regional policy manager is to bring all the players in the community together.  That’s the school system, the transportation engineers, the planners, the public health folks, and the community advocates,” Green says.  “We bring everybody together under this common mission of not only kids walking and biking but entire communities being able to walk and bike for all their trips.”

Communities apply for federal Safe Routes to School grants.  “You must complete a school travel plan before you do an application,” Green says.  “A school travel plan requires you to look at the infrastructure around your school, it requires you to do some counts about the numbers of kids walking and biking to school currently.”

The entire budget of the Safe Routes to School program covers only seven percent of all schools in the United States, according to Barbara McCann, the executive director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, based in Washington.

“There’s just a tremendous need to change the way we design our roads so that the people who need to use the roads do so, and that includes kids,” says McCann, who organization largely faults road designs over the last half century for the decline in peoples’ physical activity.

“When parents are looking at going with their kids to school they have to think about is there a sidewalk, is there a safe crosswalk, is there a signal?” McCann says.  “It should be a priority of the community to have safe routes to school.  Sidewalks make a tremendous difference in safety.  They can reduce pedestrian crashes exponentially.  In many communities it hasn’t happened and hasn’t been a priority.”

In the Forest Hills neighborhood of northwest D.C., sidewalks are the focus of Robin Schepper, a mother of two young boys and leader of the Safer Routes to School program at Murch Elementary School.  She has successfully fought to have sidewalks built on several streets, but some homeowners have also successfully resisted.

“There are a lot of people who really don’t want sidewalks,” says Schepper.  “They have landscaped all the way to the curb even though the city owns four to five feet up. They don’t want sidewalks because they don’t want to disturb their landscaping.”

Schepper and a WAMU reporter made the 17 minute walk from her home west to Murch Elementary.  On some streets there are no sidewalks on either side.  She accompanies her sons, 6 and 10, on their walk to school every day.

“I was stopped by a police officer about two months ago and she said, “Hey, you got to be careful.  This is not safe for your children.”  And I said, “I know.  I’ve been trying to get a sidewalk here for years,” Schepper says.

Missing sidewalks (and landscaping crews whose trucks make the streets even narrower) are not the biggest concern among neighborhood parents, says Schepper.

“We did a survey at Murch Elementary School when we got a ‘Safe Routes to School’ grant and we did a survey of what were parents’ biggest fears of letting their kids walk and bike to school.  And the number one reason was speeding cars,” she says.

Connecticut Avenue runs north/south through Schepper’s kids’ route to school.  The posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour, but motorists were seen speeding at about 45 or 50 miles per hour during her interview with WAMU.

“We have traffic coming from Maryland so Connecticut Avenue in the morning is like a speedway,” she says.

While Schepper fights for sidewalks in D.C., in Vienna, Virginia Jeff Anderson is waging a different crusade: getting kids on bicycles.

“I started here at Wolftrap Elementary by asking our principle for a bike rack one day,” says Anderson, who has three young kids with whom he bikes to school.

Once a month Anderson organizes a bike train – a caravan of bicycling students – to encourage more kids to eschew the back seats of their parents’ cars for a two-wheeler.

“I usually have between 10 and 15 kids who join me.  We take the back roads and avoid the main roads,” says Anderson, who started the bike trains about 18 months ago.  “There was no bike rack.  We now have four.  The goal is to get them to see that it is easy to do.  Eventually they don’t do the bike train anymore. They just ride on their own.”

Anderson says getting more kids on bicycles or walking is not as simple as he’d like.  Parents are concerned about traffic congestion, and some just want to talk with their kids in the car for those precious few minutes before the busyness of the day takes over.

“Everyone is rushed these days to get out for all kinds of reasons.  People err on the side of convenience and ease versus taking 15 minutes with your child walking to school,” he says.  However, there is a downside to choosing convenience, says Anderson, a member of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling.

“In the ‘60s, fifty to sixty percent of kids biked or walked to school.  We didn’t have Type 2 diabetes in children.  We didn’t have an obesity problem in children.  And now only 13 percent of children walk or bike to school nationally.  That’s the same number we see here at our school on any given day, too,” he says.

Anderson’s daughter Laurel, 9, is happy to be in the minority.  “I like doing it because we are not using energy, it’s a lot of fun, and I like getting exercise,” she says.  Younger brother Eric, 7, says he feels better at school after he bikes in the morning.  “You can think better,” he says.

Awareness of the benefits of safe streets is not lacking in Kentlands, a community of about 5,000 residents in Montgomery County, Maryland.  A model of ‘new urbanism,’ the Kentlands was designed for walking, not only driving.  Sidewalks are wide and roads are narrow.  Front steps meet the sidewalks.

“Narrow roads calm traffic, keep cars going more slowly, and keep the houses closer together which creates neighborliness.  They also provide for wider sidewalks on each side,” says John Schlichting, the chairman of the Kentlands Community Foundation.

The children of the Kentlands were raised as walkers.  Their schools, friends, and favorite hang-outs are close by.

“I always cross in the crosswalks, and there are lots crosswalks and sidewalks in the Kentlands, so it’s not like you’re walking in the middle of the street.  But if I were somewhere else I might not feel as safe,” says Elena Dietz, 11.  Here sister Hannah, 13, says she notices a big difference between the way she lives compared to friends from other towns that rely on their parents for transportation.

“They have to get parent permission for everywhere they go, everything they do.  Whereas I can be like, mom, I going to walk three doors down and go to my neighbor’s house,” Hannah says.

Another child of the Kentlands, Sebastian Zeineddin, 8, says he is lucky to live there.  “I like walking to school because I also have friends that I can walk and talk with, too.”

Sebastian’s observation raises an issue any parent can relate to: no responsible adult would let their child walk to school, especially alone, if they believe the roads aren’t safe.  Thirty percent of traffic deaths for children up 14 years old happen when they are walking or bicycling.

In the Kentlands no child has to walk by himself.  The close proximity of neighbors produces camaraderie among the kids.  Thus, advocates like Barbara McCann and Christine Green believe that the effort to get more kids walking and bicycling cannot succeed without major changes to the design of their neighborhoods and towns.

At the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, engineer Fred Lees is in charge of improving the ‘walkability’ of roads.  The head of the traffic engineering section, Lees is working on creating walking routes to the county’s schools.

“One of the biggest problems we have with schools in general is parents dropping off kids, buses, and kids walking, all converging in the same fifteen minute period,” says Lees.  In fact, 20 to 30 percent of morning traffic is children being driven to school, according to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.

“We’ve found that along some of the designated walking routes some of the crosswalks are not there or are in bad condition, so we will certainly go out there and mark those and remark ones that are faded,” says Lees.

Getting half of all American school kids walking or biking to school again may seem like an improbable task, but advocates say it is possible through a multi-pronged effort to improve the design of communities, educate parents and children, and encourage physical activity.

In D.C. Robin Schepper is determined to make a difference one street at a time.

“The proudest moment I have in doing this type of work is that when [my kids] point to sidewalks, they say that’s mommy’s sidewalk,” she says.

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Transportation Nation

MAP: New York City Sites 420 Bike Share Locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens

Friday, May 11, 2012


New York City has made live its draft maps of bike share stations.  The stations dot all of Manhattan south of Central Park,  Long Island City,  Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant,  Fort Greene,  and Clinton Hill. (See here, for why they won't be in other neighborhoods.)

The full maps are here and explanation of costs here.

The bike share docking stations will extend the reach of the transit system to the far East and West sides of Manhattan, as well as  northern Williamsburg and Greenpoint, which are currently underserved by the subway system.

In those neighborhoods, riders will be able to take a bike share to the 7 train in Long Island City or the L in Williamsburg.   Now, those riders have to take an impossibly long walk, or take the G to either of those trains.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show that bike share is designed to  expand the transit system -- not for recreation. "So you rent a bike, go to work, leave the bike when you get to work, pick it up when you get out of work, leave it when you get home," the Mayor said.

Neighborhoods that currently have no transit connections could be accessed through bike share.  The growing population center of  Williamsburg will be connected now to  and Downtown Brooklyn, as well as Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Still unconnected: Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Windsor Terrace, Carroll Gardens, Crown Heights, and Prospect Heights as well as the Upper West & Upper East sides.  Those neighborhoods will have to wait until 2013.

"I'm extremely proud to release this plan for the Citi Bike network . New Yorkers created this plan during the past six months, contributing time and expertise in workshops, on-line and in dozens of meetings to discuss and plan the City's newest transportation system," said New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Meanwhile, a new poll shows New Yorkers approve of bike share by a more than two to one margin.  Support has slipped slightly since the program was first announced last October.

The DOT says the "draft maps are the product of hundreds of meetings with community boards, elected officials, members of the public and stakeholders in each district, as well as from some 70,000 station location suggestions and comments on DOT’s bike share Web site," adding that the maps have been presented to local council members and "DOT is currently in the process of reviewing the maps with local community boards in the service area."

For the most part, community board leaders say they've been delighted with the siting process.

The locations are on "wide or underused sidewalks," as well as road space that is current "No Standing" or "No Parking."

Citibike will launch in July, and will cost $95 a year or $9.95 a day to join.  Annual members can ride any bike they want for up to 45 minutes a ride, then usage fees kick in, starting at $2.50 for up to 75 minutes and $9.00 for up to 115 minutes.

Daily members get 30 minutes of free riding, with an hour costing $4 and 90 minutes costing $13.

The DOT cautions:  "Citi Bike is transportation, not recreation. It is designed for short trips and encourages users to return bikes quickly so that others can use them...Think of Citi Bike as a taxi cab: Get one, get there, then dock it. See attached maps for indications of the kind of rides Citi Bike can be used for."

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Transportation Nation

What Bike Share Costs -- A Comparison

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

 

CORRECTED POST There's been not a little controversy about the cost of New York's bike share since the program was unveiled this week -- much huffing and puffing about how an afternoon's ride would cost you a C-note. The city Department of Transportation notes that bike share is not intended for four-hour rides, any more than a taxi ride should last four hours. If you need a car for four hours, you can rent one. If you need a bike for four hours, you can rent one too -- just not a bike share.

Also responding to the critics: Matt Seaton takes a comparative look in the Guardian Wednesday.

Their point is: this is transportation, not recreation.

But still, New York's rates are among the highest in the world , as far we can tell. The annual fee is $95 -- a bit above most other annual rates, which range from $70 to $80.

The usage fees for annual members, in the chart above, are also high, although NYC annual members get 45 minutes of free riding, unlike riders in Washington, DC, London, Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Minneapolis, who only get 30 minutes of free riding.

And the usage fees for daily members are the highest of all - $4 for the first hour, $13 for the first 90 minutes, compared to a $2.00 and $6.00 fee for most other cities.


 

 

Here's a look other annual fees (& daily membership fees) around the world:
New York: $95 ($9.95)
Boston $85 ($5) CLOSES IN WINTER
Denver $80 ($8) CLOSES IN WINTER
Montreal $80 ($7) CLOSES IN WINTER
Washington, DC $75 ($7) -- there's also an $84 annual fee that can be paid out monthly.
Chicago $75 ($7) TO BE LAUNCHED LATE SUMMER
London $72 ($1.60)
Minneapolis $65 ($6) CLOSES IN WINTER
Paris $50 ($2.20) -- this level of annual gives you 45 minutes free riding
Mexico City $23 (daily rate N.A.)

The New York bike share annual membership is still cheaper than a monthly MetroCard, as the NYC DOT likes to point out. And with it, you can ride anywhere, anytime, as many rides as you want -- for free, so long as those rides don't exceed 45 minutes. That grace period exceeds the grace period in most other cities. With the exception of Paris, Montreal and Mexico City, charges in all the above cities start at minute 31. (In Paris you can chose between a deluxe membership, which costs about $50, or a regular which costs about $36, and gives you just 30 minute free riding)

NY officials say 97 percent of rides in DC are under the 30 minute free ride there. But if you keep the bike past the grace period, the charges escalate rapidly. The $2.50 cost for the initial usage fee in New York is the highest we could find.

As for next increment: it's $9.00.

NYC DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow says that's still misleading -- because in New York, you can ride for an hour an a quarter for $2.50, and for an hour and three quarters for $9.00.

"These rates are not so easy to compare to each other," Solomonow said. "Some trips are cheaper or more expensive, depending on the specific city, type of membership and length of trip. Some rides are cheaper or more expensive depending on whether they lasted 59:59 or 60:00."

Many, many of you have commented below about whether New York's bike share should ever be used for 90 minutes (mostly, you say no.)

For most one-way rides that people will make after the initial roll-out in Manhattan below 59th Street and parts of Brooklyn and Long Island City,  it shouldn't be a problem to stay under 45 minutes for a one-way trip. You should be able to get most places around that district in under 45 minutes.

New York's transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan says the pricing arrangement is a necessary way to keep trips short and bikes in circulation. Here's how she explained it in an email:

"The system is the first unsubsidized bike share system and it is designed to incentivize people to return bikes promptly so there will always a be a bike available for any user who wants one. There is no other system of this size and structure that compares, and instead of costing tens of millions of dollars to implement as budgets are being cut, the system will actually provide a new transportation option and revenue for the city."

"As we have seen in other cities, users primarily use the bike share bikes no longer than the free period. The system works when people return their bikes promptly and incur no additional charges at all. It breaks down if users go looking for a bike but find only empty docking stations because all the bikes are checked out on long rides."

However, when the system expands to Park Slope, Crown Heights,  and the Upper West Side, one can easily imagine a one-way commute of an hour and a quarter. Alta officials have said one-way commutes are frequent in Washington, DC. When it's raining in the morning but nice in the afternoon, a user might want to ride home from, say, Lincoln Center to Crown Heights.

No word yet on whether the system's pricing could be adjusted -- though in Washington, officials have created low-income payment plans and other discount schemes.
[CORRECTED POST: Our initial post inadvertently compared New York's usage rates for daily and short-term members to the usage rates for annual members in other cities. The chart above has the correct rates. We regret the error.]

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Transportation Nation

Report: Signal Problems Cause Most Delays in NYC Subway

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Side view of an old school NYC subway signal. (Photo by mementosis / Flckr creative commons)

(New York, NY - WNYC) More than a third of all long subway delays are caused signal problems, according to an analysis  of 3,000 text alerts sent by the NY MTA last year by the Straphangers Campaign.

The report tallied "significant incidents that often generated subway delays" of 8 minutes or more and found signal problems caused 36 percent of such delays, followed by mechanical problems at 31 percent. Rail and track problems caused a combined 19 percent of long delays.

Straphangers spokesman Gene Russianoff said he's not surprised, given what he saw of the signals at one location. "The MTA took us on a tour of the West 4th Street Station, where 7 lines and hundreds of thousands of riders go through every day and we went to the dispatcher's office where the signals are kept and they were built in 1932 and looked like the controls on the deck of His Royal Majesty's ship, the Titanic," he said.

The report only looked at delays in the control of the MTA and not incidents such as police actions and sick passengers. The lines with the most delays were the 2 and 5 trains, which each had 8 percent of total delays. The line with the fewest delays was the G, which connects Brooklyn and Queens and is the only line that does not go into Manhattan.

Manhattan had the most delays at 43 percent. The Bronx had the fewest with 11 percent.

The MTA said it is upgrading signals, tracks and subway cars as part of its capital construction program. The authority launched its free text alert system in November 2008; it has more than 76,000 subscribers.

The Straphangers Campaign is a public interest research group that advocates for improvements in mass transit.

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Negotiators Kick Off Highway Bill Conference; Boxer Warns "Failure Is Not An Option"

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user Crazy George)

Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate began their formal conference over surface transportation funding Tuesday, in a negotiation that could take up to a month and where tens of billions of dollars are at stake.

Lawmakers from both sides of the Capitol gathered in one of the Hill's largest hearings rooms to begin hashing out an agreement between the chambers. On the table: A two-year Senate bill worth $109 billion backed by a broad bipartisan vote, versus House demands to cut spending, reform federal projects, cut regulations and force approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

The extension governing highway funding expires June 30. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) the champion of the Senate bill and the conference committee chair, told lawmakers they'll need to reach agreement by early June in order to get an agreement written and passed in time.

It won't be easy. Several tries left House Republicans unable to agree amongst themselves on a multi-year transportation policy. Meanwhile, many House conservatives consider the Senate bill a non-starter, largely because of its funding levels.

Now House Republicans begin the the conference at a distinct disadvantage. House and Senate Democrats are strongly behind the Senate bill, as are many Senate Republicans. The White House has also strongly backed the Senate's bid. SenatorJames Inhofe (R-Okla) leaned on House conservatives to accept the Senate's bill, which he helped craft with Boxer.

"I have every expectation we are going to be able to do that which the majority of Americans want done," he said.

House Republicans hold a few cards and are making some demands of their own. They want the Senate's $109 billion price tag reduced and are pushing hard to force the White House to accept final construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. They have also laid down markers repealing pending EPA coal ash pollution regulations.

"Let's not just spend more money. Let's have some serious reforms," urged Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) the conference committee's vice-chair.

Boxer began the proceedings with a long list of lobbying and interest organizations that support the Senate bill, ranging from AAA and trucking groups to the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"If the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce can work together, then surely we can work together," she said, adding that "failure is not an option for us."

But the reality is that in the 112th Congress, failure is, in fact, an option. Leadership aides in the House and Senate predicted that the election-year talks would likely lead to an agreement rejected by House Republican rank-and-file members. That could force Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to pass any final agreement with the help of large numbers of Democrats. Failing that, Congress can do what it's done nine times since 2005 and simply pass another extension of current law to avoid a shutdown.

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NY's Rocky Road to a Bike Share Sponsor -- or Why The Rollout Will Take Longer Than Planned

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan at the rollout of New York's "Citibike" bike share. (Photo: Andrea Bernstein)

When New York  Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson and New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announced New York's bike share program last fall, the intention was clear -- they were setting up "a new system to be comprised of 10,000 bikes and 600 stations in parts of Manhattan and northwest Brooklyn -- at no cost to the taxpayers" as Sadik-Khan put it then.

The system, it was explained, needed to be large to make it work -- the more potential users could depend on finding bikes in a variety of locales, the more it would be an actual public transportation network -- not some urban folly.

But when the system was presented Monday under its brand new-name, Citibike, to be funded through a five-year, $41 million contract with Citibank and a $6.5 million Mastercard sponsorship, it was somewhat less extensive -- at least at first.  "It will be a phased-in deployment," Sadik-Khan said at Monday's press conference.  "I mean we can’t just airdrop 10,000 bikes in. It will be between August and spring of 2013 that we'll have the deployment of the full system."

The bike share program, it turned out, would NOT hit the Upper West Side, Upper East Side, Park Slope, Cobble Hill, or much of Brooklyn beyond Bergen Street until a year from now.

Sadik-Khan wouldn't explain why, or when, this decision was made.   No other DOT officials would speak to this issue, implying that this was always the plan. When I asked Alta president Alison Cohen about delays in implementing the program, Sadik-Khan's spokesman rushed over to prevent her from answering.

But speaking to elected leaders, officials and several sources familiar with negotiations over the bike share contract, a story has emerged of a far more rocky road to a sponsor than yesterday's happy news conference would suggest.

"I got a call sometime last week, that’s when I first heard of  a delay," said Council member Gail Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side. Brewer says she was told there would be 7,000 bikes rolled out at first, with the balance coming next spring. Was she disappointed? Brewer, a big bike share backer, was philosophical.  "I'll be disappointed if I don't get my day care slots back," Brewer said, referring to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed budget. "You have to have priorities."

When the city announced that Alta Bicycle Share would be operating the bike share it made one in a series of splashy promises -- there would be no cost to New York taxpayers. "Alta will be getting a sponsor," Sadik-Khan said at the time. That would make New York the only large-scale system in the country to be entirely privately funded.

"We're getting an entirely new transportation network without spending any taxpayer money," Bloomberg said at Monday's press conference. "Who thought that could be done?"

Apparently, there were a lot of doubters. Puma was approached, and Adidas (New Balance has sponsored Boston's "Hubway.") So was American Express. "All the usual suspects," said one source familiar with the negotiations. "The list of companies who could spend this kind of money just isn't that long. And it was unprecedented to raise that kind of capital  for an unproven system --  bike share on European scale, an order of magnitude larger than any system in existence in north America."

By February, officials were beginning to sweat. If New York didn't find a sponsor, the city could be on the hook to Alta -- but worse, many officials thought, the bike share program could be imperiled.

"It's a lot of money and each company has to decide whether the opportunities they'll have by sponsorship fit their clientele," said Bloomberg on Monday, maintaining he never worried.

But Alta's business plan was confusing, sources say, making it hard to reel in the big money. In late winter, the city involved its Economic Development Corporation in the planning, adding some business gravitas to the discussions.   (The EDC is a quasi city agency that usually hands out loans to entities willing to locate or create jobs in New York.)

Ed Skyler, Bloomberg's former Deputy Mayor for Operations (and Sadik-Khan's old boss), is a top Citibank executive. Citibank was lured in.

(Even so, everyone, from the Mayor on down, credits Sadik-Khan. "I never worried," Bloomberg said, "because Janette went after it. And anyone who knows Janette knows if she sets her mind to it it's going to get done.")

Eventually, Citibank was sold. "We think this is a very innovative program that makes people’s lives easier, that’s what we do, that’s what we do as a bank," Vikram Pandit, Citibank's CEO, told me Monday.

Was he worried about controversy surrounding the program? "This is a program supporting bikes, bikes are environmentally friendly, they're good exercise. There’s always controversy  -- but on balance we think this is a great program," Pandit said.

The Citibank contract was signed only two weeks ago -- far later than officials had hoped. Without the contract, there wasn't the upfront capital to get the bikes produced. And that, multiple sources confirm, was the major reason for the delay in getting the bikes to some neighborhoods.

Bike share boosters are, for the most part, expressing just the faintest disappointment at the delay in bringing bike share to the full footprint.

"The reality of implementing an entire transportation network from scratch for a city as large and complicated as New York will obviously require a careful approach," said Transportation Alternatives chief Paul Steely White. "The city is working with local communities to roll out bike share with as little disruption as possible. Sometimes that means revising timelines. The important thing is to keep moving forward and work toward meeting the huge demand for bike share in New York City."

Steely White, Brewer and others are willing to cut the city some slack -- willing to give credence to what the city says. "We said we would find a sponsor.  And we did," mayoral spokesman Marc LaVorgna said. " We're doing something that's never been done before."

When the bright blue bikes were unveiled Monday at City Hall plaza, there were smiles and claps. And the idea of "Citibike" seemed to convey exactly what the city wanted -- these bikes are for transportation, for getting around the city. These are urban bikes. And they are intimately tied with the city's economic future.

"A perfect outcome," Sadik-Khan told me yesterday.   I told her I was guessing she was exhaling right about now. A faint smile played across her lips.

 

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Transportation Nation

Tolls Still a Sticking Point in Dulles Rail Project

Friday, May 04, 2012

Silver Line construction near Tysons Corner, VA (photo by cizauskas via flickr)

A Virginia citizens group says the most critical issue surrounding the construction of Phase 2 of Metro's Silver Line to Dulles Airport is tolls.

A pro-union provision proposed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) received most of the attention this week when federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held a closed-door meeting with the Silver Line stakeholders to try to resolve disputes over the $2.7 billion dollar project. The Reston Citizens Association, which represents 58,000 residents in Fairfax County, says the controversy over whether bidding contractors should receive a preference for choosing union labor is not as important as toll projections on the Dulles Toll Road.  Those tolls are supposed to pay off the project’s debt over the next forty years under the current funding structure.

In a letter sent Friday to Secretary LaHood, Terry Maynard, who sits on the association’s board of directors, said this week’s efforts to resolve the dispute over union labor “barely touch on the most critical issue of the construction of Phase 2 of the Silver Line: three-quarters of the cost of Phase 2 of the rail line’s construction will be borne by the 100,000 or so users of the Dulles Toll Road, many of them Reston residents. The result will be that toll road users will end up paying more than half of the nearly six billion dollar total cost of the Silver Line.”

In an interview with WAMU, Maynard said projected high tolls are one of many outstanding issues surrounding Phase 2 of the largest mass transit project in the country at the moment.

“It is not being addressed. That’s specifically the reason why I wrote this letter on behalf of our committee to Secretary LaHood,” said Maynard, who said motorists' tolls would pay for three-quarters of the project's cost unless the funding structure is changed.

“We’ve always called for toll road users to pay a quarter of the cost. This goes back to the 2004 federal environmental impact statement that had that percentage in it,” he said.

In his letter, Maynard said “a regular commuter who now pays less than $1,000 per year in tolls will see that cost rise to more than $8,000 per year in 2048 or more than $3,000 per year by 2028 in today’s dollars.”

Virginia Delegate Barbara Comstock (R), who sponsored legislation to withdraw her state’s funding commitment over the pro-union provision, said Phase 2 will not happen if MWAA maintains a PLA, or project labor agreement, which would give contractors a ten percent bonus on their technical evaluation scores if they opt for a union workforce.

“The law requires that they have to have a level playing field to compete.  It is not something that negotiable,” she said.  “The governor has said from the outset that they would have to have a level playing field.”

An MWAA spokeswoman said CEO Jack Potter was not available for comment today, but she did release a statement.

“We’re working with our partners on the PLA issue and no decisions have been made regarding tolls at this time,” said MWAA spokeswoman Kimberly Gibbs.

Comstock said no major decisions should be made about Phase 2’s fate until a midterm audit by an inspector general is released May 15.

“It will be a critical time to stop and take a look at what this audit is telling us about [MWAA’s] management practices so we can make improvements, do the best for the taxpayers to keep tolls down, and keep the costs of the project down,” she said.

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Transportation Nation

42 Bike Share Docks for Lower Manhattan Revealed in Semi-Public Rollout

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Slide showing the location of several planned bike share docks in Lower Manhattan. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The New York City Department of Transportation continues to show community boards in Brooklyn and Manhattan where it's planning to install Bike Share stations in those boroughs.

NOTE: WE'VE TURNED THIS INTO AN INTERACTIVE MAP, VIEW IT HERE.

NYC DOT has promised to post a map of the entire system online once it's done. But the department is sticking by its refusal to release the draft maps, though it's supposed to have the actual program up in running by mid-July, a mere 10 weeks from now.

There is a way to glimpse what the city has in mind, and that's to go to a community board meeting and sit through the department's presentation of bike share locations. Hence our presence, with cell phone camera, at Thursday night's meeting of Community Board 1's Planning and Infrastructure Committee.

We photographed five slides, like the one above, that show where the bike share docks would go around Lower Manhattan. By our count, CB 1 will hold 42 of them.

The locations were whittled down through a series of meetings with department staff and community board members. Kate Fillin-Yeh, director of New York City Bikeshare, said any proposed location that had been red-flagged in a previous meeting did not make the cut.

Of the 42 that remain, twelve would require the removal of parking spaces--"three or four" per location, according to Fillin-Yeh. The stations would also be installed on street sites not used for parking, sidewalks, parks and plazas, and private property.

She said the department tried to spread the the bike docks evenly throughout Lower Manhattan, and place them near subway stations, large institutions like New York Law School, and tourist sites like south Street Seaport and the boat to the Statue of Liberty.

Board members reacted positively to the plan, with some praising the DOT for the way it has run its consultation with the community. The plan will be presented to the full board in the coming weeks.

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Transportation Nation

NY Gov Cuomo Offers No Details on Tappan Zee Bridge Funds

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Tappan Zee Bridge spanning, on the day of this photo, a serene Hudson River. (Flckr / duluoz cats)

(New York, NY - WNYC) In the Q & A after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the members of a new state Infrastructure Bank Board, he talked today about how the state might pay to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge after the federal government did not grant a $2 billion loan application.

(Ray LaHood wrote about the projects that did get the funding here.)

The proposed $5.2 billion project is a high priority for Cuomo.  It would build two spans to replace an aging, overcrowded bridge across the Hudson River in New York City's northern suburbs.

Environmental and transportation groups have criticized the replacement bridge's design because it makes no provision for transit.  Some opponents have suggested Cuomo's  vehicles-only approach contributed to the project's failure to win federal transportation funding.

But Cuomo downplayed the decision by the Obama administration not to grant a loan on April 26.   Cuomo said he's considering public-private partnerships that could leverage private financing, but he has no proposal at this time.

Here's an excerpt of the Q & A:

Q: Was it disappointing to not get the federal transportation loan for the Tappan Zee Bridge? Also, any progress on the next steps in terms of funding?

Cuomo: I believe the federal transportation funds will be reauthorized and I believe we will be competitive. Howard, anything new on the Tappan Zee financing?

Director of State Operations Howard Glaser: We’re doing many things simultaneously: the environmental review, the financial plans, working out labor agreements. So you’ll continue to see that work being done over the next few months.

Q: Do you need public-private partnership legislation to fund the bridge?

Cuomo: We’re talking about public-private partnership legislation. We don’t have an immediate proposal on that.

[Cuomo then talked about the various political obstacles to the project, and the need to overcome them to show that the state can still think and build big.]

[We're battling] inertia and institutional opposition—just bureaucratic opposition: opposition of the system, opposition to change, opposition to risk, which is very real and one of the main challenges you’re going to face.

The Tappan Zee Bridge is a project that has been talked about for decades, literally. The Tappan Zee Bridge--and there’s a project called the Peace Bridge in Buffalo--are large scale public works projects that have been talked about for decades but have somehow defied progress, let alone completion. That is one of those cultural enemies, I think, to progress. This sense that big projects are just too difficult to tackle.

Building a bridge: it’s controversial, it’s complex, there’s going to be opposition and [the idea that] if there’s opposition, we should stop. We’re trying to do the exact opposite with the Tappan Zee. We’re trying to say, ‘When there is a pressing need, government should be able to respond quickly, expeditiously, efficiently. Hear everyone, fair process, due process…but then get it done. Get it done.’

Government was about functioning [during the tenure of former NY State Governor] Al Smith. Government was about functioning and performing, competently, quickly. So the Tappan Zee Bridge, which we’ll be involved in, is a project that we identified early on, that is not just going to be about repairing that bridge. But it’s going to be about making the statement that government can work and society can work and we can still do big things. We’re that good. So keeping the Tappan Zee on time and moving along is very important to us.

Q: The biggest roadblock seems to be how to pay for it.

Cuomo: We’re working through a number of financing options and we’ll present a number of options for discussion and we’ll pick the best one.

Q: Will you be passing legislation during this session to allow you to raise public-private money for the Tappan Zee Bridge? Would it have to go through legislation?

Cuomo: It would not have to go through legislation. No.

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Transportation Nation

Members of NY Infrastructure Bank Board Announced

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Here's the list of who will be on the New York Works board

No big heads of transit agencies or transportation authorities on the list, but you'll note the Governor did name Bob Yaro, of the Regional Plan Association, a longtime transit advocate.  There's also an environmentalist, Peter Goldmark, and Felix Rohatyn, the man who "saved" New York after former President Gerald Ford infamously told the bankrupt city to "drop dead."

Otherwise it's mostly elected officials and union reps.

Governor Appointments:
Denis Hughes, Former President, NYS AFL-CIO – co-chair
Felix Rohatyn, Former Chairman, Municipal Assistance Corporation – co-chair
Mayor Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo
Michael Fishman, President, SEIU Local 32BJ
Peter Goldmark, Program Director for Climate and Air, Environmental Defense Fund
Gary LaBarbera, President, NYC Building & Construction Trades Council
Carol Kellermann, President, Citizens Budget Commission
Mayor Stephanie Miner, Mayor of Syracuse
Robert Yaro, President, Regional Plan Association

Senate Majority Appointments:
John Cameron, Chairman, Long Island Regional Planning Council
Robert Mujica, Chief of Staff to the Senate Majority and Secretary to the Senate Finance Committee

Assembly Majority Appointments:
Ron Canestrari, Assembly Majority Leader
Herman D. Farrell, Chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee

Biographies of the members can be found here:http://www.governor.ny.gov/assets/NYWorksTaskForceBiographiesfinal.pdf

Staff to the Task Force will include a team of state officials led by Margaret Tobin, a finance and economic development specialist, who will serve as Executive Director.

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Transportation Nation

Ireland's Transport Minister: We Built It, They Didn't Come

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Cork Airport in 2011 (photo by tomylees via flickr)

Ireland's Transport Minister spoke candidly Thursday about how the recent financial crisis had hobbled his country -- and forced it to be a lot more wary of big investment in transportation projects.

Leo Varadkar said Ireland will be doing very little in the way of new road and rail projects, choosing instead to maintain what they have, expand relatively low-cost bicycle networks, and make public transportation customers happier through wi-fi and transit apps.

"We've lost roughly 20% of our GDP. Unemployment has gone from maybe 3 percent to 14 percent, and while we ran very big budget surpluses in the past we've now have a big deficit," he said. "And that really has made transport investment very difficult."

Ireland's good financial times ground to a halt in 2008. One former government minister has described the country's boom times like this: “You could say the government was drunk on the revenue that was coming from all the construction taxes.”

Varadkar said that although the economic situation was stabilizing, the country's huge debts have forced the country to redefine how it thinks about transportation projects.

"What we had during our boom period, between 2001 to 2008, was huge investment in transport," he said. "There was a whole new motorway network, which has transformed the country. New airport terminals, we reopened some closed railways. And most of that investment was worth doing. But a lot of it actually wasn't. At the time, we were subscribers as a country to this view -- I'm not sure if you've seen the Kevin Costner film."

He said Ireland had been a proponent of 'if you build it, they will come.' "And we found with a lot of our transport network well, they didn't come. And we now have railways that run at a massive loss and half-empty airport terminals."

So that was then -- and this is now. "I think what we're going to be from now on is a lot smarter, a lot more considered about our investment. The first thing absolutely is to maintain what we have. Secondly, is ... a sort of seamless and smart investment in transport. So while we're only building a few new roads and linking up a few railways, what we're doing a lot of is very low cost, very smart and very efficient investment.

"So we've brought in an Oyster card in Dublin, our Leap card, putting wi-fi in on all the buses and trains, that improves people's experience of public transport. We have intelligent information systems now on our on motorways, so there's a lot of signs telling people what's happening with traffic and what's ahead." And he said the bus systems provide real time bus information, both via signage, apps and texting.

"We're putting a lot into cycle networks as well, which can be very efficient and then a lot in the last mile. So say, for example, we're investing in the train stations. At a relatively low cost we're putting into the train stations hubs so that the bus can actually come into the train station and drop people off. We're putting in cycle ways and cycle parking so that more people can cycle to the train station.

"And what we're trying to do, particularly in rural areas, is to create transport hubs. We we bring together the bus station, the train station, things that seem logical but often aren't the case. And finally we're doing some regulatory reforms: we're opening up our railways to competition for people who may wish to provide service on our railways. And we're exploring the idea of going down the route that other cities have gone down, particularly in our major cities, of franchising out the bus services."

"So really what we're trying to do is maintain what we have first of all, secondly, improve what we have and do those low-cost improvements that bring about seamlessness and improve the passenger's experience of transport, public transport in particular. And then and only then are we doing major new projects, and that of course is very limited by the financial situation."

 

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Houston Gets Bike Share, In London's Mayoral Race, It's All About the Bikes, GM CEO Defends SUVs and Tsunami Motorcycle Washes Up on Canadian

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Poor Die More in Car Crashes (Link)

LaHood Convenes Meeting on To Save Dulles Silver Line (Link)as Pressure Grows to Drop Project Labor Agreement (Link)

As Fuel Prices Dip, So Does Fuel Economy in New Cars  (Link)

NY Officials to Add Barriers, Speed Monitoring to Stretch of Parkway Where 7 Died (Link)

NY, 44 Cities Blow Through Smog Standards (Link)

Montana Now One of Eight States That Can Instantly Verify Liability Insurance (Link)

New York's Comptroller Says He'll Block New "Taxi of Tomorrow" Contract Because the New Cabs Aren't Accessible (Link)

West Wing Fanatics, They Reunited the Cast...and Produced This: (Link)

Kate's Photo Essay on All The Things Germany has that You Don't: Fast Trains with Bike Cars, Plenty of Space for Parking Your Bike, Cool Trams (Link)

Houston's Bike Share (photo; Imelda via flickr)

 

CEO of GM, Dan Akerson, Defends SUVS, Bailout, in Chat with The Takeaway's Celeste Headlee (The Takeaway)

Vancouver's Bus Rapid Transit Greenlighted (The Columbian)

Houston Bike Share Pilot Launches (ahead of NY, SF & Chicago!) (Houston Chronicle)

London's Mayoral Race: It's all About the Bikes...And the Trains (in Shakespearean terms, no less) (NPR)

Benefactor will Fund Transit For Needy Boy Who Got An Agent Fired For Giving Free Rides (SF Chronicle)

SpaceX Rocket Launch Delayed (WMFE)

Chicago's New Red Line Depends on Transpo Bill (Chicago Tribune)

Business Big: Those Who Want Transit on Tappan Zee Either Ignorant or "Pure Obstructionists" (LoHud.com)

You Can't Get There From Here -- the NY Times Looks at How Hard it is to Get Between Smaller Cities (NY Times) and Other Ways Business Travel is Hell (NY Times)

And....Motorcycle Washed Away in Japanese Tsuanami Washes Up on Candian Island 4000 Miles Away (Fuji TV via Boston Globe)

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Pressure Grows To Drop Union Pay Premium for Dulles Metro

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is convening a meeting of the stakeholders in the Dulles Silver Line project as a dispute among the parties threatens to derail the project.

As we've been reporting, Virginia is balking at a premium for union contracts on the project, and is threatening to pull funding.

Officials say Lahood, concerned that a crucial economic development project may be thwarted, has invited representatives from the Governor's office, MWAA, WMATA and Loudon and Fairfax counties to participate in the meeting.

Meantime, the Washington Airports Task Force issued the following statement today:

"We call upon all Dulles Rail funding stakeholders—MWAA leaders, federal, state and local government leaders, and WMATA’s management—to focus on resolving the issues concerning the second phase, in order to find the common ground that will enable Phase 2 of the Dulles Metrorail Project to move smartly forward to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County.  In so calling, we applaud the further effort of U.S. Secretary Ray LaHood to save this project.

"The MWAA has managed Phase 1 essentially on cost and on time.  It is now time to focus on the real issues, which are:
1)     Funding Phase 2 without placing an unreasonable burden on Toll Road users.
2)     Dropping the PLA preference, and instead requiring the contractor to provide a well-qualified and reliable workforce to build Phase 2 in a similar manner to Phase 1.  The successful contractor should be left with the ability to use every tool in their toolbox to complete Phase 2 safely, within budget, on time and in conformance with Virginia’s right to work laws.

"America has built its greatness upon a pragmatic approach to business, science and politics.  Pragmatism means working together to achieve what is best for the common good, and surrendering extreme desires in the interest of that common good.

"Extension of rail to Dulles/Loudoun County is a “Game Changer” for the whole region.  The Dulles Metrorail Project will link the Dulles Corridor to the rest of the region.  This project will benefit:
Ø  Virginia, through increased revenue from the support of economic and employment growth in Northern Virginia.
Ø  The District of Columbia, through economic and employment growth, and improved access to its international gateway for tourism.
Ø  Maryland, by linking the entire Metrorail system to a corridor that now constitutes 25% of the entire Metro Region’s economy, bringing Maryland employers closer to Virginia residents and vice versa.

"It is unconscionable to think that, as a region, we would not move swiftly forward with the second phase of the Dulles Metrorail Project.  If we did allow the project to fail, how could we, as one of the nation’s wealthiest areas, expect to solve the bigger transportation issues challenging our region, including swift multi-modal access between activity centers, relief for our congested highways, and creation of an effective, fair, sustainable source of regional infrastructure funding? "

More later.

 

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Transportation Nation

Occupy, Unions Shut Down Golden Gate Ferry

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A coalition of approximately 200 union members and people from the Occupy movement shut down the Golden Gate Ferry for eight hours today. The ferry serves approximately 6,000 daily between Marin County and San Francisco.

The protest was initially set to close down the Golden Gate Bridge, but the union coalition worked with Occupy members to move the protest to the ferry terminal in support of workers from the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU), who were striking today over increased healthcare costs.

“We are on strike to project our jobs and healthcare,” said IBU ferry worker, Rene Alvarado. “The same thing is happening to everyone. I see people getting laid off, and health care costs going up. It’s time for management to appreciate us the way that our passengers do.”

The Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District is in contract negotiations over the increased health care premiums with a coalition of labor unions whose members work as ferry captains, deckhands, ironworkers, and bus drivers.

“The Golden Gate Bridge District now pays the entire premium for all of the workers’ healthcare,” said district spokesperson, Mary Currie. “That can get pretty pricey, so we’re asking that our workers pay a part of the premium that the District now pays.”

Ferry service resumed this afternoon, staffed by union workers, but the Teamsters said at today’s protest that they plan to shut down all Golden Gate Transit bus service on May 10 if contract issues with the District aren’t resolved.

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